I dug back into the past to recall the day of Sam’s bris, twelve years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. As we make plans for his bar mitzvah, I find myself still grappling with issues of identity. What makes a Jew?
(I should say that my title for this piece was “Conversion”…..)
The smell of butter and onions from the omelette station drifts upstairs to the room where I am changing into my mother-in-law’s clothing. It is the day of my son Sam’s bris, and even though I gave birth eight days earlier, I still look like I’m five months pregnant. My stomach is loose and flabby and looks like a wrung-out piece of cheesecloth. My previously non-existent breasts have ballooned to C-cups. None of my own clothing fits me so my mother-in-law, Annette, who has arranged, paid for, and is hosting this party at her Long Island home, has lent me some of her clothes. I have never loved her more.
I look in the mirror and see nothing I recognize. Annette’s ivory-colored silk blouse and paisley-printed skirt, while elegant, do little to disguise the fact that I am a battlefield: exhausted, overwhelmed, leaky. No matter how much I had done to prepare for the birth of my first child—baby care classes at the hospital, multiple readings of “What to Expect”—I have been completely upended by the experience of motherhood, and it has only been eight days. In a few moments, my son will take part in the oldest rite in Judaism, linking him to a chain of tradition that began with Abraham’s covenant with God almost 4,000 years ago. All I have to do is show up.
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